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Seven-try Scotland keep World Cup hopes alive

Scotland fly-half Finn Russell was at the heart of most of Scotland’s best moments
Scotland (24) 45
Tries: Turner, Van der Merwe, Steyn, Darge, Horne, Kinghorn, Graham Cons: Russell 5
Tonga (10) 17
Tries: Kata, Tameifuna Cons: Havili 2 Pens: Havili

Scotland saw off stubborn Tonga with a bonus-point victory to keep alive their hopes of progressing from Pool B at the World Cup.

On a warm afternoon in Nice, George Turner, Duhan van der Merwe, Kyle Steyn and Rory Darge delivered the required four tries before the interval.

Tonga played with admirable commitment and led briefly when Solomone Kata responded to Turner’s early score, but missed tackles and ill-discipline let them down, with Afusipa Taumoepeau and Vaea Fifita both shown yellow cards, the latter upgraded to red after the final whistle.

Ben Tameifuna and George Horne traded scores in a largely scruffy second period before Blair Kinghorn and Darcy Graham added some late gloss.

So where does this leave Scotland?

Having lost their opener to South Africa, Gregor Townsend’s men need to find another bonus-point win over Romania, which should be a formality.

Then they will almost certainly need to summon a first win over Ireland since 2017 while denying the world number one side a bonus point. That looks like a task worthy of Hercules.

Scotland will be buoyed by the ease with which they cut through the big-hitting Tongan defence, but this was an up and down display and they will know another level – and then some – is required to topple the in-form Irish.

Pool B table

Turner was first to touch down off the back of a well-executed driving maul, but the South Pacific Islanders were exerting pressure in the contact and Kata scooted into the corner from a lovely Salesi Piutau offload.

Sione Tuipulotu, whose father is from Tonga, was integral to Scotland’s second score, feeding Finn Russell, who popped off to Blair Kinghorn and Van der Merwe was soon celebrating his 21st international try.

Russell then zipped a pass to Steyn, who found a gap to add to the four tries he scored the last time Tonga were at Murrayfield in October 2021.

Taumoepeau was shown a yellow card for planting his shoulder into the head of Scotland captain Jamie Ritchie and Darge wriggled through a cluster of bodies with the first-half clock in the red.

Ritchie was not seen again after failing his head injury assessment, but Taumoepeau only missed 10 minutes, much to the surprise of many match pundits.

The imposing Tameifuna crashed through a sea of blue shirts to get Tonga within seven points, but great work from Van der Merwe got Scotland going again as the muscular winger shrugged off four opponents to slip replacement scrum-half Horne in from close range.

Kinghorn, who fumbled when trying to gather from his own kick right under the posts in the second minute, raced on to another well-timed pass from Russell to stretch the Scots’ lead.

Those two combined again soon after, with Kinghorn stopped just short by a fabulous Pita Ahki tackle.

A tiring Tonga were reduced to 14 for the second time when Fifita clobbered Russell with a no-arms challenge and Graham ran in from a long way out to dot down in the game’s last phase.

‘A decent enough performance’

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend: “You’ve got to be happy with the win but we know we can be a lot better than that last quarter. It got a bit loose.

“We pride ourselves on making sure we stay at the levels we started with. We didn’t do that today but I’m really proud of the effort that went in.

“I’m content with the game plan, the intent, and our contact work. Tonga were very physical. Some of our defensive work was outstanding. But, we got a bit greedy in that second half. When you’re up on the scoreboard, you’ve got to be better in those situations.

“We know we have to improve from that performance.”

Scotland fly-half Finn Russell: “It was a decent enough performance but we need to get better if we want to stay in this competition beyond the group stage.

“The forwards were good, they gave us some quick ball. I had a bit more time than I thought I would and was able to put a few boys through.

“The style of rugby we play is good fun and I think the crowd like it as well.”

Scotland: Kinghorn; Steyn, Harris, Tuipulotu, Van der Merwe; Russell, White; Sutherland, Turner, Z Fagerson; Gray, Cummings; Ritchie (capt), Darge, Dempsey.

Replacements: Ashman, Schoeman, Nel, Skinner, M Fagerson, Horne, Jones, Graham.

Tonga: Piutau; Kata, Fekitoa, Ahki, Taumoepeau; Havili, Pulu; Fisi’ihoi, Ngauamo, Tameifuna (capt); Fifita, Lousi; Halaifonua, Talitui, Fifita.

Replacements: Moli, Koloamatangi, Apikotoa, Coleman, Paea, Vailanu, Takulua, Pellegrini.

Match officials

Referee: Karl Dickson (England)

Touch judges: Nika Amashukeli (Georgia) and Craig Evans (Wales)

TMO: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)

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